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Philanthropy Dos and Don’ts to be More Equitable

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A guest post from Beeta Jahedi, Senior Director of Learning and Programs at San Diego Grantmakers. The original is available here.

I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) National Conference last month in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I’ve always had great professional experiences collaborating with their talented staff, and I’d heard only the best things about their coveted conferences, which typically sell out in the blink of an eye. One session in particular, “Advancing Racial Equity and Inclusion through System Leadership,” was particularly enlightening and relevant to my current work—so if those topics are important to you too and you couldn’t be there, then here’s what I came away with…

Some Context

Not only are equity and inclusion a key part of the national social movement conversation, they are key focus areas at San Diego Grantmakers, where I work as the Senior Director of Learning and Programs. We facilitate a group called the Social Equity Funders, which is focused right now on two projects: 1) a pooled grantmaking fund that supports collaborative efforts to advance equity and inclusion, and 2) a Leadership Development Project that is connecting regional efforts to empower leaders in under-represented communities who can achieve positions of influence and advance social justice policies. I’m also in the midst of planning a half-day Equity Event to take place September, and am fervently absorbing all the rich knowledge, wisdom, and tools on these subjects that I can. GEO was a great place for me to be to apply a philanthropy lens to a topic that I have been deeply immersed in for much of my career and had the privilege of exploring at the Policy Link Equity Summit in 2015.

My 4 Key Takeaways

  • Upstream instead downstream equity. Funders cannot dictate how to improve equity from their perspective at the “top.” It needs to come from the grassroots level with the people and organizations dealing with this issue and its impacts every day. Ask community members questions, and most importantly listen and weave that into the core of your work or approach.

  • Acknowledge the power imbalance up front, then take steps to do away with it. Tawanna Black, executive director of Northside Funders Group, a place-based, collective impact organization of 20 corporate, community and private foundations, and public sector investors in north Minneapolis, shared that, in meetings with grantees, one of the first things they’ll do is be direct about not wanting to yield undue influence because of their “power of the purse.” Then they’ll deliberately give their grantees space to do their work authentically and without interference. Grantees can calls things like they are, without fear of repercussions from the group of funders. It does take considerable intentionality and trust to develop this. So commitment and patience are musts.

  • Equity in the workplace requires a different way of thinking about qualifications as well as open dialogue with grassroots leadership development and advocacy organizations. There is a difference between treating job applicants equally and being equitable when hiring new employees. Equality in the hiring process means that job applicants are given equal consideration, but they’re still evaluated based on factors like the schools they attended or how well their résumés are formatted. Being equitable in the hiring process means considering those competencies more holistically and contextually. However, said Tawanna, if potential candidates do not meet job requirements, employers also need to feel empowered to say so, and work with advocacy organizations on ways to find more qualified, but still diverse, applicants.

  • Listen to the people who are actually affected by inequity and exclusion…and then act accordingly. Northside Funders will often invite the black men and women directly served by their grantees in to tell their stories (unpracticed, unrehearsed, and also unheard of). Simple but generative questions are asked like: What caused challenges for them and what was his/her life like before engaging the help of the nonprofit? What is their life like now, what attributed to those improvements in general? Deep breath and then voila, real-time impact check. Then the Northside Funders group takes a critical look at themselves, reflecting on whether their funding is in line with what they heard. These authentic voices can be far more instructive than the voices of paid experts and community representatives, although we all love them too.

Awesomely Helpful Session Resources

And because I know you’re busy, here are the direct links to the resources that accompanied this session so you don’t have to dig for them on the conference webpage and have a bit more time to actually check them out (you’re welcome):

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